A three-year study in Iceland has found a linkage between geothermal gases and respiratory illnesses like asthma.
Published in the journal Environmental Research, the study compared respiratory illness in adults to daily air pollution levels in Reykjavik, Iceland.
The researchers measured respiratory illnesses by counting how many adults filled prescriptions for asthma-related medication each day between March 2006 and December 2009, as registered in the national health database limited to adults living near the capital city.
They then measured levels of air pollutants at a busy intersection in Reykjavik, including hydrogen sulfide produced by geothermal facilities outside the city.
The results showed that a one-hour peak in traffic pollutants would eventually lead to an increase in the number of adults filling prescriptions for asthma medications. On top of that, gradual increases in the daily average for hydrogen sulfide were also found to be linked to the number of adults filling out asthma-related prescriptions.
For both traffic and geothermal pollutants, increases in the number of adults filling prescriptions generally took place 3 to 5 days after increased exposure — given that such exposure levels do not necessarily result in immediate asthma attacks, that seems natural.
This is one of the first studies to directly link increases in asthma-related troubles with hydrogen sulfide, and will result in more research being undertaken in an effort to further understand the implications. Additionally, the study showed that short peaks in air pollutants may cause more harm to the human respiratory system than longer-term averages.
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